Sunday, May 11, 2014

Son's love de-liver-ed to mum, and how to make a boiler-plate ASEAN speech...

Wow. This is one heck of a Sunday Times story (May 11). Thanks, Ai-Lien, for such a heart-warming piece. There were especially two heroes -- the son, and the amazing surgeon:


Mother's Day, unfortunately, has become overly commercialised and commodified. Guess who wholeheartedly agrees with this sentiment?...

The Founder of Mother's Day
Hated What The Holiday Became


I said I was watching how the just-ended ASEAN Summit panned out. Here's my commentary on a Channel NewsAsia/xin.msn story below:

ASEAN must be neutral in South
China Sea row: PM Lee

NAY PYI TAW, Myanmar: The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) must play a constructive role in managing problems in the South China Sea, said Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday.

Translation: "Constructive role" is simply diplomatic-speak. Was it ever expected that ASEAN would play an "unconstructive role"? If PM Lee had said ASEAN must "remain credible", that's a different matter. It might, say, have been an expression of disappointment that no joint statement had been issued. There was one, albeit it was a four-paragraph "boiler-plate" statement saying nothing that would upset China. Which meant that the Philippines was upset. Vietnam? Nah, it was  not expecting any "bully one of us, and you bully all of us" statement. It always knew it stood alone on this one.

And that also means not taking sides with the countries making various territorial and maritime claims.

Translation in Singlish: Abuthen. (Hello, ASEAN is not a NATO-like or even an EU-like body.)

Speaking at the 24th ASEAN Summit in Myanmar, Mr Lee echoed the sentiments of foreign ministers that ASEAN should have a common position on the issue.

Translation: "common position" is diplomatic-speak too. So, something like "The South China Sea is a body of water" qualifies as a common position.

He said incidents, like collisions between Vietnamese and Chinese vessels in the South China Sea within the past week, could easily spiral out of control and trigger unintended consequences. PM Lee said: "ASEAN's view has been that, whereas ASEAN doesn't take a position on the individual, on the merits of the claims, ASEAN does have a view on the overall issue of the South China Sea, because it is happening on our doorstep and we must have a view, because the security, stability of the region depends on what happens in the South China Sea and we cannot, not take a view as ASEAN."

Translation: Wah, even I had difficulty making sense of all this. I think the message to fellow ASEAN members is, "Let's not upset China. Why behave like a bull in a China shop?" The message to China is: "Read our lips. ASEAN doesn't take a position on the individual, on the merits of the claims, okay??"

He also stressed the urgency of coming up with an early conclusion to a South China Sea Code of Conduct and urged leaders to give strong political support to the process.

Translation: Boiler plate. Nice sounding words but no one believes it is going to happen any time soon. 

Mr Lee said a united and cohesive ASEAN is of vital interest for every member of the regional bloc. A divided ASEAN, he said, undermines the group's credibility and relevance to the world.

Translation: ASEAN must hang together or ASEAN members will hang separately. That's actually very scary.

Mr Lee said ASEAN must also work together to tackle transboundary haze pollution arising from fires due to the burning of land. He urged ASEAN member states to operationalise a Haze Monitoring System for the region quickly. Mr Lee said Singapore looked forward to full ratification of the ASEAN Agreement on Trans-Boundary Haze Pollution soon.

Translation: Tolong lah, Indonesia. Can sign, please?

He said: "The mechanism has been set up, with the software, the system is there. What we need is to be able to get the maps and the... land title information from the countries where the burning is a problem, so that we can actually use this system. And that depends on cooperation from the countries involved, including Indonesia and Malaysia. So the ball is in their court now."

Translation: Don't forget... Malaysia also generates plantation-burning smog [I don't call it haze].

On ASEAN's goal to be a single market by 2015, Mr Lee said political will is needed so that necessary reforms can be made to liberalise the region's economies. He said the grouping has made encouraging progress towards an ASEAN Economic Community. He said more than 70 per cent of the targets have been achieved, and urged officials to redouble their efforts so that the outstanding issues can be resolved.

Translation: Ready or not, ASEAN will call itself an economic community in 2015 (that's next year!). Remember the AFTA? "Agree First, Talk Afterwards".

Mr Lee acknowledged that remaining issues to be agreed upon -- such as trade in services and eliminating non-tariff barriers -- are difficult and sensitive. These, however, offered the most benefits to people and businesses. As such, ASEAN leaders must find the political will to tackle these issues and make the necessary reforms to further liberalise their economies.

Translation: The more things change, the more things stay the same. Look at AFTA.

Mr Lee also said there is a need to promote awareness among businesses -- especially small and medium enterprises (SMEs) -- about the ASEAN Economic Community, so they can take full advantage of these programmes. One way of creating awareness among businessmen would be to fully implement an ASEAN open skies agreement before 2015.

Translation: Singapore badly wants this open skies agreement. 

PM Lee also met Myanmar President Thein Sein and expressed hope that the country can consider issuing licences to Singapore banks as it develops its financial sector.

Translation: Our business model is better. Nothing under the table -- but it's ultimately better for you. Your risk assessment will go up! But you have to bite the bullet.

He congratulated President Thein Sein on Myanmar's successful hosting of its first ASEAN Summit. The summit is also Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's last, as he steps down as the leader of his country. Mr Lee thanked the outgoing President, saying he has led Indonesia ably, growing its economy and enhancing its contributions to the world. Mr Lee said ASEAN has benefited from a stable and growing Indonesia.

Translation: Always end an ASEAN speech on a positive note.

Boiler Plate

I used the expression "boiler plate". What do I mean? Here's a definition:

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